Well-defined sound and excellent fit
Sony’s WF lineup of truly wireless earphones is famous for its healthy mix of performance and features. But the company has so far not sunk its toes in the budget segment below 6K. In a price-conscious market like India, it is understandable to have a strong offer in terms of its popularity along with the budget TWS segment. The Sony WF-C500 is the company’s first attempt at a budget TWS. Priced at Rs 5,990, the WF-C500 has a fair share of competitors which raises the question, do you want to buy these earphones more than earphones like Nothing Year 1? Powered by a 5.8mm driver and Bluetooth 5.0 connection, the Sony WF-C500 looks fairly promising on paper. However, it does stand on the shoulders of Sony giants such as the WF-1000XM4. So, do these earphones work well in our testing and real-world situations? Find out.
Sony WF-C500: Build and Comfort
Featuring a small, lightweight build, the Sony WF-C500 targets an on-the-go audience. The buds are primarily made of plastic but do not feel cheap or plastic. They are also rated IPX4 for sweat and splash resistance, which makes them convenient for everyday listening as well as workouts. Inside the completely plastic-free box (Sony’s main props here), you’ll find two additional sets of silicone ear tips – S and L when the mediums are already pre-installed on the buds. Ear tips should provide a comfortable and snug fit to most users.
The rounded sides of the earbuds rest comfortably against the ears and feel safe enough to walk or jog with them. The buds need to be twisted and locked in place to get the safest fit possible. Snag Fit also ensures excellent passive isolation, so you won’t miss Active Noise Cancellation too much. However, keep in mind that competitors like Nothing Year 1 come with ANC. But we still prefer the WF-C500’s Fit Nothing from Year 1. Overall, the buds are comfortable, snug and secure for the most part with admirable build quality for the price.
One of our frustrations with earbuds is the quality of physical control. Behind the buds is a physical button that must be pressed down to record actions. Pressing buttons can put pressure on the inner ear as you push the buttons and push the buds further down your ear canal. Buttons are also hard to press and sometimes refuse to register certain actions.
As for the charging case, the Sony WF-C500 has a relatively small pill-shaped case with a translucent top. While the translucent top design may look a bit cheap, it allows you to peek inside and determine the battery level without opening the case. The case is quite difficult to open with one hand and has a lot of resistance to open in general, but a small beak of the lid gives you something to hold on to. Inside the case, the earpieces are held in place using strong magnets. Although the case seems decent for the price, the Nothing Year 1 One-Up comes with the unique transparent design of the Sony WF-C500.
Sony WF-C500: Sony Headphones Connect app and other features
One of the best features of the WF-C500 is companion app support. The earphones are compatible with Sony’s Headphone Connect app, which allows users to gain some level of control over their earbuds. Available for both Android and iOS, the Headphones Friend Connect app lets users play with customization options such as an ear scanning feature and 360 reality audio to customize the sound to suit your ears. Although keep in mind that there are few apps in India that support 360 reality audio so this is not a very useful feature.
The best feature of the app is of course the customizable equalizer. It comes with various presets as well as custom sliders for the user to play with. In contrast, the Nothing Ear 1 app does not have a custom EQ, only a few presets to work with. However, it has customizable controls that are missing in this earbud. We really missed the functionality of the custom control. It’s a granular level of control that provides an app that really expands the overall experience, so it’s safe to say that we’re disappointed Sony has avoided it because cheaper competitors like Realme Buds Air 2 also come with customizable controls through the app.
The app also has an Activity tab that tracks your usage and gives you badges to meet some milestones that may seem pretty cool to us, but you can be the judge. You can also toggle the DSEE in the app, choose the quality of the Bluetooth connection, check the battery status, and of course update the firmware.
For other features, earbuds support mono earbud usage, which allows you to use two earbuds independently of the other. You can activate the voice assistant by pressing and holding the right earbud. You also get other music and call controls, so the music pause / play once the right button is pressed and the calls are received or turned off. Pressing the right button twice avoids the next track, and pressing the third button returns to the previous track. The left earbud controls the volume level – once pressed the volume increases and holding down the button decreases the volume. These are not the most intuitive controls we have experienced and most users will take some time to remember them Earbuds supports Google’s Fast Pair as mentioned earlier and also has a feature called Swift Pair for quick integration with Windows 10 PCs. These are rated IPX4, as we mentioned earlier
Since these are Sony’s budget TWS earphones, they miss some features like Active Noise Cancellation, Ambient Sound Mode and Qi Wireless Charging. While it is understandable from Sony’s point of view to differentiate between their budget and premium offers, they fall short of the Nothing Year 1’s choice, which supports all the features that are missing in these earbuds. So, if you are looking for a pair of the most featured earphones under 6K, Nothing Year 1 would be a good bet.
Sony WF-C500: Performance
The Sony WF-C500 is still Sony’s cheapest TWS, priced at 5 5,990 The earphones pack a 5.8mm driver with a frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz. In contrast, Sony comes with the most premium TWS – WF-1000XM4 6mm driver. For audio codecs, the earphones support SBC and AAC. The earphones also feature Sony’s DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) technology, which basically upscale compressed audio files by recovering high-range noise compromised by the compression process.
With Sony’s expertise in sound tuning, this technology creates a beautifully balanced sound profile. Earphones below 6K can be one of the most detailed-sounding pairs of TWS. The only other TWS to come close to this price are Nothing Ear 1 and Lypertek PurePlay Z3. We tested these earphones with our special equipment to find out the sound signature of earbuds.
Sony WF-C500 (Blue) vs. Neutral (Dark Green) Raw Frequency Response Graph
The bus response has been slightly increased from 20Hz – 250 Hz but it does not sound muddy or swollen. The midges are surprisingly close to neutral resulting in detailed representations of vocals and lead instruments. Heights from 2kHz to 4kHz show a significant boost, which means more elements like symbols and hi-hats are present in this mix. However, this boost can cause some fatigue while listening for a long time. So, if this bothers you, go to Sony’s Headphones Connect app to change the EQ settings in that area.
For volume level, these earphones are capable of being quite loud and we recommend that you listen to them near the 50-60 percent mark. However, even if you increase the volume level, there is minimal distortion of sound, which is impressive. When compared to Nothing Year 1, these buds go from toe to toe with them, but one area where they surpass ear 1s is between 500Hz and 1.5kHz high-mid. There’s a slight dip in the Frequency Response Graph of Nothing Year 1 that spoils some of the details from lead instruments and female vocals.
Uncompensated Frequency Response Graph for Sony WF-C500 (Blue) vs. Nothing Year (1) (Green)
The Lypertek PurePlay Z3, formerly known as the Tevi, sounds a little more detailed and analytical than the Sony WF-C500, especially at altitude. That being said, these are one of the more tech-sounding earphones under 6K, with nice imaging and a decent sound stage.
The Sony WF-C500 is equipped with a versatile microphone in each earbud. While microphones are noisy for outdoor situations, they work perfectly indoors. The microphone captures the speaker’s voice and presents it clearly for the most part. Although the voice may sound a bit thinner than in real life. Also, the microphone picks up ambient sounds very easily, hence its inconvenience in the outdoor location. Here’s a sample from the mic – We’re using the Sony WF-C500 microphone to record it in an indoor setting, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
For wireless connection, the earphones are powered by Bluetooth 5.0 and have a nice wireless range. The connection process is seamless with Google’s Fast Pair and even without it, you can connect to any device in no time. As soon as the bud comes out of the charging case and connects to the paired device with the earphones, the connections are instantaneous. There was no gap or stutter in the connection during our test period. Earphones also have minimal noticeable delays when watching videos or playing games, but adding a codec like aptX or aptX LL will further reduce latency.
Sony WF-C500: Battery life
Battery life is a very important metric for most buyers. The WF-C500 fare is quite decent in this regard. Earbuds are rated for 10 hours of wireless playtime, which is comparable to premium TWS but clearly at the top of the spectrum. However, charging only contains one more charge, which brings a total of 20 hours which is not unusual.
So, although the battery life in the earbud alone is outstanding, the overall playing time is mediocre. In contrast, Nothing Year 1 has a total play time of 34 hours, of which approximately 5.5 hours are spent alone (shutting down the ANC).
In our experiment, setting the volume to about 60 percent, we recorded a wireless playtime of 9.5 hours on earbuds which almost stood in favor of Sony’s claim. We also received a full charge from the lawsuit. In addition, earbuds also support fast charging where just 10 minutes of charging gives you one hour of play time.
Sony WF-C500: Judgment
So, what’s the answer to the all-important question – do you have to buy a Sony WF-C500? The answer is a sonic – dependent. There are two areas where these earphones shine brightly – sound quality and fit. The earphones have a balanced sonic signature with well defined and detailed sound. Additionally, earbuds are comfortable, a secure fit and IPX4 rated which makes it an easy choice for workouts. However, in some cases, such as total battery life, customizable controls and transparency mode, the earphones fall short of the competition. These are definitely not one of the more featured pairs of TWS earphones below Rs 6,000 So, if features like Custom Control, ANC and Transparency Mode are your primary concern, you might be better off looking at other options like Nothing Year 1 and even the cheaper Realme Buds Air 2.